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Bruins Seek Seventh in a Row

The Bruins chased Mike Smith once this year.  Tonight, they'll try to do it again.
The Bruins chased Mike Smith once this year. Tonight, they'll try to do it again.

The Bruins return home after a lengthy road trip to face the Tampa Bay Lightning, with second place in the Eastern Conference on the line.  The teams are tied in points, with identical records, but Boston's +47 goal differential is the second-best in the league, while the Lightning are a playoff-fringe worthy 0, and look to be a team that's not nearly as good as their 37-19-7 record suggests.

This is the teams' fourth and final meeting of the year, with the Bruins holding a 2-1 edge.  The last time these two teams played, the Bruins scored a 4-3 win.  Tim Thomas was the winning goalie in both Bruin wins, and is likely to get the start, as Tuukka Rask has played the last two. 

The Bruins, of course, are riding high, having won 6 in a row, while the Lightning had a more modest 3 game win streak snapped by the New Jersey Devils, and will be coming in on the second night of a back to back.  The Lightning have been less than stellar away from home, with a meager 16-12-3 record.  Of course, the Bruins haven't always impressed at home, with a 15-12-3 record.

The Lightning have an offense led by two world-class players in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.  Stamkos has cooled slightly from the blistering pace at which he began the season, but still has 78 points in 63 games, including a league leading 41 goals, and is a Hart Trophy candidate.  St. Louis is hardly worse with 75 points.  The offense drops off after that, but Vincent Lecavalier has been hot of late; after an injury-riddled start to the year, the former #1 overall pick has 7 goals and 5 assists in his last 10 games. 

The Lightning excel on the power play, boasting an impressive 20.5%.  What's more, they are second in the league in power play opportunities; this is a team that has been able to draw penalties.

As good as their top offensive players have been, the Lightning struggle to keep the puck out of the net.  They are 25th in goals allowed.  The midseason pickup of Dwayne Roloson has stabilized the situation a bit.  Though Roloson hasn't been stellar (2.67 GAA and .908 save percentage), he's been light years better than the Mike Smith/Dan Ellis tandem had been.  Roloson played against New Jersey, and it sounds like the Bruins will face Smith tonight.

So, the game plan in this one is simple: stop Stamkos and St. Louis, stop the Lightning.  It's a simple plan, albeit one that's not easy to execute.  Look for the Bruins to have Zdeno Chara on the ice whenever the Stamkos line is out there, as much as possible.  Claude Julien did this against the Capitals, matching Chara against Alex Ovechkin at every opportunity, and it was effective.

For the B's, Michael Ryder has taken particular pleasure in torching Tampa Bay goaltending.  Ryder has five goals and four assists, and a five game point streak against the Lightning, and Murph sees chemistry forming between Ryder and new linemate Chris KellyNathan Horton has goals in three straight, and four out of five, and has been finding the touch after a few long droughts this year.  Horton's success has come at the same time as a great run for the #1 line, as Milan Lucic and David Krejci are playing strong hockey as well.

The Bruins enter this one relatively healthy; Andrew Ference has been day-to-day with a lower body injury, and, of course, Marc Savard is out for the year.  The Bruins had an off day yesterday, so there's no update on Ference as of the time of this post.  The Lightning will be without Ryan Malone and Matt Lundin, both of whom are on injured reserve. 

Puck drops at 7 pm.  As usual, the game will be televised on NESN locally, but NHL Network nationally.  Radio broadcast will be on 98.5 FM.  The Public Skate will open half an hour before the game.

For more on this one, head over to Raw Charge, SBN's Lightning blog.